Chapter 2 : We Weren't Born To Follow
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Chapter Image by MrsLovett @ TDA
Nine months earlier…
3rd February 2023
Every muscle was taut.
From her fingers clinging to the nooks and niches of the stone wall, to her stomach muscles keeping her core balanced, to her blazing calves keeping her toes secure on the brittle rock. All taut.
As she reached lithely up for a further handhold she thanked Merlin that there was little breeze tonight. The gentle wind was only enough to make her hair flutter back from her face – nowhere near enough for her to doubt her safety. Which was ironic, really, considering how far from the ground she actually was.
Twelve storeys to be precise. Verging on the thirteenth and final.
Cassie Cooper smiled as she found her handhold, relishing the feeling of adrenaline fighting through her system, reminding her of the deadly consequences if her attention wavered for just a second.
It felt so good to be really concentrating on something, to be challenged.
Maybe, Cassie thought, I should have just asked for further assignments in class.
Locating another foothold, she gingerly slid her foot up the wall, adjusting her weight distribution to make up for the one less grip. It was secure. Just enough gap in the stone to slide the toe of her tennis shoe into. Her muscles adjusted again but didn’t for one second relax.
Nah, she answered herself, I’ve always been one to take it too far.
Glancing upwards, her heart jumped as she saw that the end of her task was close. Just one more foothold, she needed, and she’d have made it. Made it to the top of the Astronomy Tower.
As quickly as this elation came, it was stifled by another feeling. An eerie sense that she was being watched.
Not moving her body an inch, she slowly turned her head to look down. She took in the distance to the ground with a thrill. But the courtyard below appeared empty. She couldn’t be certain, of course, it was the middle of the night and it was lit by a single glowing candle in a single glowing lamppost. But she was sure that if she’d been caught, the teacher would have hailed her by now. Surely.
Mentally shaking off the feeling, Cassie tilted her head and smiled again at the sight of the starry night sky. Not far to go.
She stepped deftly into another foothold and judged the distance. She could do it. She could just swing herself up onto the parapet.
Not pausing to take a second thought, she followed her instinct. Swinging one hand out of his secure hold she reached for the top of the wall and caught it, and in the same movement her feet followed. For one breath-shuddering moment she was supported only by the one hand. Then she landed nimbly over the wall, one foot at a time and sunk into a crouch at the impact.
Nicely done, she congratulated herself, buzzing still from the adrenaline.
But she wasn’t finished yet.
Anybody could get here – they had their Astronomy lessons here, for crying out loud. Alright, they didn’t usually take such an extreme route, but it was still an unrestricted place. Not much of a challenge apart from the actual climb.
Cassie turned her back on the battlements and the beautiful view of the shadowy grounds. Her eyes followed the slope of the roof, beginning just out of her reach.
The slate tiles of the roof were slippery – it was more of a test, even though she knew that if she fell from here she’d only fall a few feet. But not that much of a test. All it took was a slight jump for her to catch the edge of the roof by the tips of her fingers. From there she could haul herself up, the lean muscles in her arms screaming with the burden after working tirelessly to get herself up the thirteen floors of the tower.
It was a typical gabled roof, sloped either side of the crown. But Cassie found comfort in the statue of Merlin on the outmost edge. She’d long ago discovered that the bottom of his robes made a pretty comfortable stone seat, perfect for a place to sit and reflect.
She waited for her breathing to slow and her heart rate to return to normal and rested her head back against Merlin’s knee. As usual, after the thrill of the climb, her trip to the roof was a bit of a disappointment.
It really made no difference where she went to reflect. It could be from the warmth of her dormitory in the Ravenclaw quarters with the chatter of the fifteen or so other girls in the background. It could be from the more secluded kitchens, enjoying a mug of hot cocoa with the comforting clatter of the house elves at work in the background.
But Cassie Cooper would always choose the complete solitude of the roof.
For no reason other than the climb.
She needed the climb.
She needed something, something to distract her from the mind-numbing boredom below in the enchanted castle.
It ought to be fascinating, she knew. She used to find it fascinating. Of course the first few years she’d been as mesmerised as anyone else by the countless secrets to be discovered in the majestic school. Then when Ryan started school it was like she was a first-year all over again, caught up in his awe and excitement.
But now, she swallowed the painful lump in her throat, now nothing seemed to matter anymore.
She needed the climb. She needed it to make her feel again.
“You know, there are stairs.”
Had she not been protected by the smooth stone of Merlin’s robes there was a strong possibility that she would have fallen from the roof. The unexpected voice shocked her that much.
Cassie squinted into the blackness and could just make out a figure hovering on a broomstick mere feet above the roof in front of her. All she could make out was the vague shape, no face. Whoever it was wore a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up.
She knew it wouldn’t be a teacher – they wouldn’t be on a broom – but the fact that someone had followed her up here alarmed her enough that she still had to fight to keep her voice steady. “You don’t seem to have made use of them either,” She said, coolly.
The hooded figure laughed softly, “And I’m sure you know why. You strike me as someone who dislikes taking the easy route as much as me.” It was a boys voice. He landed lightly and dismounted, sinking into a crouch to be on her level.
It seemed he was waiting for an answer.
Cassie wasn’t sure what his question had been. She kept silent.
“Interesting.” He commented. In a fluid movement he swept off his hood, pulled out his wand from inside the jumper and muttered, “Lumos,”
The silvery glow lit his face from below, eerily. But it was a face she recognised.
“You’re Albus Potter,” She said without thinking, recognising the thin face, renowned green eyes and dishevelled hair.
“I am,” He didn’t appear surprised that she knew. Well, he wouldn’t be – every student in the school knew of Albus Potter and the legend behind his family. A legend that had become even more mystifying in recent years. Now the only Potter at Hogwarts, he was more talked-about than ever.
Cassie wondered if it bothered him that she’d known straight away who he was. She was sure it must get tiresome. In her parent’s days at Hogwarts, everyone had known everyone in their year, they’d told her, and many in other years. The classes were only split into two – two houses in each, and then in NEWT years it was dwindled down to one in most subjects.
Now, with the law making a Hogwarts education compulsory coming into practice three years ago, there were over a hundred students in each year and the classes were split by ability. There were many people in Cassie’s year that she wouldn’t be able to name, and even more that she’d never had a proper conversation with. Hogwarts was a lot less personal now. And yet every student knew this one boy.
“And you are?” He asked.
Just as it was unsurprising that she knew him, Cassie wasn’t slighted that he didn’t know her name. He was a seventh year, she was a sixth. He was a Gryffindor, she was a Ravenclaw. She didn’t play Quidditch so their paths didn’t cross.
It was common courtesy for him to ask. Polite even. But that didn’t mean she was going to answer.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
She could tell from the amused glint to his eyes and the quirk of his lips that he knew she was ignoring the question. She also knew that it had to be killing his knees to hold a crouch for that long. But he didn’t move.
“I could ask the same of you,” He said, with a crooked half-smile.
“Shame I asked first, then,” Cassie retorted.
He laughed appreciatively. “Ok. I don’t really have an answer. I was flying. I saw some crazy girl scaling the tower. I was intrigued. Your turn.”
“Why were you flying at…” Cassie glanced at her watch, “…three-thirty in the morning?”
He laughed again, “You’re pretty good at avoiding the question. Again, I don’t really have an answer. I like to fly at night.”
“Why not?” He countered.
Cassie couldn’t stop a small smile of her own spreading across her face. She couldn’t remember the last time a person had made her truly smile. “Looks like I’m not the only one good at avoiding the question.”
“It’s only fair,” Albus reasoned. He blinked and when he opened his eyes they were trained directly onto Cassie’s. The eye contact was unnerving, she wasn’t ready for the intensity of it. But surely, she thought, he’d been looking at her eyes before? Why hadn’t she noticed then? Why now?
She held his gaze.
“So I don’t get to know your name,” Albus said, “And I don’t get to know what you’re doing out here in the early hours of the morning. Is there anything you are prepared to tell me?”
“That depends what you want to know.”
“How about how you’re such a good acrobat?” He offered.
“Acrobat?” Cassie inquired.
“Yeah. It’s like a stunt person at a circus -”
“I know what it is.” She said, “I just… I… didn’t think you’d know, I guess.”
He watched her curiously for a second, then pulled an accepting face, “Fair, I suppose. Maybe I know a lot of things that people think I don’t.”
It was Cassie’s turn to watch him curiously. It didn’t sound like such a casual, flippant response as his previous answers. “Anything you’d care to tell me?” She echoed his own words.
“That depends what you want to know.” He copied her at her own game, attaining another rare, authentic smile. Then he cursed and laughed, “You just did it again, didn’t you? Avoided my question… you are good.”
Cassie laughed as well. It sounded odd to her ears, bubbling out of her sounding merry and light. “I didn’t mean to that time!”
He was watching her again.
“What?” She demanded.
“Just trying to work you out.” He answered. “You won’t answer my questions so I’ve got to figure it out on my own.”
“And… I’m still working on it.”
“Let me know when you get there,”
“Don’t hold your breath.” Albus stood us, stifling a groan as his knees flexed. “So are you going to be hanging around here doing… whatever it is you’re doing… for much longer? Because I can’t call myself a man if I leave you out here in the cold.”
“Call your self a man?” Cassie echoed with another cheery chuckle.
“Humour me.” He grinned charmingly, mocking myself.
Cassie considered. She hadn’t really gotten her time to reflect, which was why she’d come up here in the first place. But it wasn’t like she actually had anything to reflect on, was it? She had way too much time to think as it was. The only real reason she’d come out here was for the climb, and that was over.
“Sure, I’m going.” She told Albus, who looked ready to mount his broom but stopped uncertainly.
“You’re not going to climb back down again, are you? Because I’m not sure I can watch that…”
“I’ll take the easy route.” She stood up and stretched her aching arms above her head.
“Thank Merlin. You should really just fly. It’s a pretty good midpoint, I reckon.”
“I don’t fly.”
“You don’t fly?” He looked disbelieving for a moment, before a smirk of accomplishment took over, “Ah, the first piece of information about yourself you’ve divulged.”
“Well, you can’t keep everything a mystery.” Cassie reasoned. She dipped into her habituated position for skidding down the edge of the roof – one leg bet, one straight, leaning on the bent leg and guiding herself with the straight one.
“Hey!” Albus shouted, as she skidded down at a leisurely pace, reaching the edge and spinning deftly to lower herself feet first onto the floor by her hands.
He swooped into view with an alarmed expression on his face.
“Yes?” Cassie inquired, innocently.
Albus glared half-heartedly, “I do not like that.”
What a baby. She hadn’t even been going that fast.
“Good thing you have your broom then,” Cassie replied, and made her way to the stone doorway. She could feel his eyes still on her as she walked away and, although she wasn’t sure what game they were playing, she felt like she was winning.
“So that’s all I get to know?” He called. “That you’re a crazy acrobat who climbs towers for reasons unknown and doesn’t fly?”
“Well that depends if you’ve figured anything out for yourself, doesn’t it?” Cassie turned around momentarily and saw that he’d put out his wand. He was just a black shape again.
“Guess so. Well, I needed a bit of a project, anyway. Don’t think I could take another identical, dull day.”
Cassie froze as she was turning away, an odd feeling in her midriff. Someone else was bored. Someone else found it all as pointless as she did.
“Maybe I’ll see you around.” With that, Albus Potter disappeared into the darkness.
It wasn’t until she’d reached the bottom of the tower that Cassie realised that he’d never really answered any of her questions either.
For the first time in a really long time, Cassie Cooper was interested.
A.N. Ok, so this doesn't answer any of the questions in the prologue... and it introduces some more. Yay, who likes being confused?!
Just to clarify, yes it did say that Albus is the only Potter at Hogwarts. The only one of the extended Potter/Weasley clan actually. But I haven't yet explained why. And yes, there's a dodgy law in place which has lead to Hogwarts being overpopulated, and that too hasn't been explained.
But despite all this, please leave a review and let me know what you think!
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